*I apologize for the lack of cited sources. This was a spur of the moment post. Also, beware of spoilers.*
For those of you who don’t know, this blog’s title is a reference to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “This Year’s Girl.” This particular episode is the first installment of a two-parter dealing with the character Faith, her return from a coma, and her attempts to exact revenge on Buffy, who put her in that coma. Faith is one of my favorite characters in the series. She is complex, real, and a true antihero.
The thing is, many fans dislike Faith. They think she’s too obnoxious for them, too evil, too damaged, too full of grey area. Some of them are probably even just made uncomfortable by the sexual tension between her and Buffy. However, I would argue that Faith is not only a better character than Buffy, but a better person.
I think, first and foremost, that we must take Faith’s background into consideration. She grew up in working-class Boston with no father and an alcoholic mother who might as well not have been there at all. Faith experienced a childhood without familial love, and, as anyone who has seen Buffy could tell you, one of the major themes of the show is the idea of the chosen family. The Scoobies, as the core group of characters is often called, are a family. Over the course of the series, it is made very clear that the reason Buffy survives so long as the slayer where others would have perished is because of the support she receives from her chosen family. Faith does not have any support until she is is activated as a slayer after the slayer Kendra’s death. She, like all slayers, receives a watcher, who, like Giles to Buffy, acts as a parental figure.
Faith finds herself in the town of Sunnydale, California after her watcher is killed. She blames herself for the death of the first person she can remember who cared about her. She covers up her guilt and sadness by being loud, tough, and hot, throwing herself into slaying, and The Scoobies dislike her for it. They think she is abrasive and wild. Buffy clearly finds her counterpart’s frank and comfortable approach to sex unsettling. As a result, The Scoobies put as little effort as possible into ensuring that Faith feels like she is a part of the team. Especially initially, everything they do with Faith is done begrudgingly.
During the episode “Bad Girls,” Buffy and Faith bond as friends and as slayers. Buffy begins to feel comfortable with Faith. But, as soon as things go too far for Buffy, as soon as they begin to become a little too close for the Self to be to the Other, she runs. When Faith accidentally kills the deputy mayor of Sunnydale, believing he is a vampire, the pair dispose of the body and leave. Both are shaken, though they handle the experience differently. Buffy is visibly concerned. Faith can only say that she killed someone and she doesn’t care, and that she doesn’t want Buffy’s help, though the forceful way in which she says it makes it sound more like she is trying to convince herself. Buffy leaves, and The Scoobies only ostracize Faith more, now under the impression that she is a murderous sociopath.
What The Scoobies fail to understand is that, because of the fact that Faith lived most of her life without being loved or cared for and because she blames the death of the only person who does care on herself, she is probably weary of help.
In addition, I think we can place Faith, based on her characterization in season three, in a Myers-Briggs type. Though many viewers would probably disagree with me, I believe that Faith is an INFP (introverted, intuitive, feeling, perceiving). Like others who fit the INFP type, she has trouble expressing her true emotions in words, she dislikes being around others for too long (she is constantly not present or walking away from The Scoobies mid-scene), she experiences a rich inner world (though in her case, also dark), she blames herself, is fiercely independent, and seeks approval from others, becoming discouraged or upset when she does not receive it. INFPs are one of the rarer and more sensitive types. It stands to reason that Faith is affected the way she is by her experiences.
In the This Year’s Girl/Who Are You? story arc, Faith projects her hatred of herself onto Buffy. When the two fight viciously towards the end of the arc, it is after they have traded bodies. Faith in Buffy’s body begins to beat Buffy in her body within an inch of her life. However, it is not Buffy who Faith seeks to kill. It is herself. She spends the entirety of “Who Are You?” as someone else, and she knows that she doesn’t want to be herself anymore. She does some terrible, almost unforgivable things over the course of the show, but she does them all not because she is evil, as some other characters might think, but because she has spent her entire life essentially being told that she is a bad person who is not worthy of love, friendship, or happiness. She has been bombarded with this message with such a frequency and force that by the time she finds herself in Sunnydale, she believes it. The accidental death of the deputy mayor, just as she is beginning to fit in with Buffy and The Scoobies and therefore to feel normal, feel loved, and feel wanted, only serves, from her perspective, to confirm what she has always been told.
Faith, then, is a very complex character, probably more so than any of the others.
My second point is that Faith is the most feminist character on the show. Buffy is, at its core, a feminist show that comments on the place of women in the horror, supernatural, fantasy, and science fiction genres through the subversion of tropes.
Buffy herself is a strong female character, as are Willow, Cordelia, Anya, Tara, Jenny, and every other woman to appear on the show. However, these characters lack something Faith has: a third wave view of gender and sexuality. Yes, I am arguing that Faith is a riot grrrl.
She might not go to Sleater-Kinney shows or gig at The Bronze, but she embodies the very essence of riot grrrl.
We’ll start with sex-positivity. She has it. Faith is proud of her sexuality and unashamed of the fact that she not only enjoys sex, but enjoys it outside of the context of a monogamous relationship. Many of the show’s other characters, Buffy included, romanticize sexuality, but will not speak of it as frankly or as favorably as Faith does. In actuality, many of the characters openly demonize those who dare to openly express sexuality. Buffy, Willow, and Xander are frequently seen in the act of slut-shaming, sometimes with Cordelia as the subject, but more often in season three, Faith, who frequently wears tight leather pants, fitted tanks that show off her cleavage, and big leather boots. In Who Are You?, she selects a shade of lipstick from Buffy’s mother’s cosmetic collection as she prepares to kill her. The shade is called Harlot. The show itself employs slut-shaming as an attempt to make the audience hate Faith.
The characters themselves seem to dislike her in part because to someone raised in a patriarchal and heteronormative society, Faith’s actions send mixed gender signals. She presents herself in a sexually expressive manner that marks her as feminine. She shows off her body, and the men of the Buffyverse take notice. However, her clothing and mannerisms also mark her as strong and as tough, and therefore masculine. She is sexually aggressive and confident, also masculine traits. The Scoobies probably can’t handle this overload of gender role mixing. Faith, on the other hand, rejects a universal notion of femininity. In terms of ideal gender stereotypes, Faith does what she wants.
I don’t want this piece to be taken the wrong way. I understand that slut-shaming is something that happens in every high school, that sometimes female characters are going to seem dependent on men, just as some male characters will seem dependent on women, I know that Buffy, like our society isn’t perfect, which in many ways is a good thing because the show refuses to pretend, like so many tv shows and films, that gender equality has already been achieved.
I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I think it’s a work of art. I most certainly believe that it is a feminist show. However, I find it interesting that the show’s title character, the character meant to represent third wave feminist ideals, is not in fact the most feminist character on the show. I think that the position, whether you agree or not, belongs to Faith Lehane, the damaged rogue who constantly comments on how slaying makes her hungry and horny, who breaks out of prison to save the world, who stops those slayers who actually are sociopaths, and who embarks on a mission to return a life.
Rage more, Faith. Rage more.